Sleep ‘is a restorative process of the brain, by the brain, and for the brain’.1 We spend one-third of our lives asleep, yet the importance of sleep is often neglected or misunderstood. What most people don’t know is that along with nutrition and exercise, sleep is considered to be one of the most important pillars of health.2
In spite of sleep being essential to health, a cut-back in sleep time has become shockingly common. New deadline? Party? New show to binge on? Sleep is always the first thing to be compromised. There is a rise in the number of individuals who are sleep deprived in modern society.1 The rush to meet targets at work, an urban lifestyle, working in shifts, smaller families and a longer travelling time to and from the workplace all contribute to disturbing our sleeping pattern.3
There is growing evidence that suggests that people who get inadequate sleep have a higher risk of weight gain and obesity.4 Read on to know why a good night’s snooze is essential to prevent weight gain.
How will inadequate sleep make me gain weight?
Researchers have nailed down several ways in which inadequate sleep contributes to weight gain. We can broadly say that inadequate sleep causes weight gain by increasing energy intake or decreasing energy expenditure.
Inadequate sleep causes an increase in energy intake by:4
- Increasing hunger: Inadequate sleep alters the hormones that control appetite. In a study conducted on young men, high levels of hunger-stimulating hormones and low levels of satiety-inducing hormones were found in young men who were deprived of sleep.
- Making more waking time available: Individuals who sleep less at night have more time at their disposal when compared to those who enjoy a full night’s sleep. Sleep-deprived individuals tend to snack more, especially when they stay awake at night.
- Increasing the intake of unhealthy food items: A study conducted in Japan found that workers who slept for less than six hours were more likely to indulge in outside food, snack often and have irregular meal patterns compared to those who slept for more than six hours.
Inadequate sleep may cause a decrease in energy expenditure by:4
- Decreasing physical activity: Individuals who sleep less at night feel more tired during the day and tend to avoid participation in any physical activity. Researchers found that individuals who were sleep deprived spent less time playing organised sports and being physically active, and more time watching television.
- Lowering body temperature: Various laboratory experiments observed a decrease in body temperature in individuals who are sleep deprived. Researchers speculate that it may decrease the energy expenditure by the body.
The current evidence in research recommends good sleep habits in individuals who are at risk of weight gain and obesity.1
How many hours should you sleep ideally?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, US, every individual requires seven to nine hours of sleep at night for the body to function optimally.5 Inadequate sleep over long periods can lead to serious health problems, one of which is obesity.6
Recommendations for better sleep
We recommend the following practices to help you sleep well at night:6,7
- Get sufficient physical activity during the day.
- Avoid exercising at least three hours before going to bed.
- Stay away from caffeine at night. Caffeine, which is found in tea, coffee, chocolate and soda, can keep you awake.
- Avoid large meals before going to sleep. They can keep you awake.
- Do not watch television or use a mobile or computer before going to sleep. The light from these devices makes it difficult to sleep.
- Develop a bedtime routine. Different individuals employ different methods to fall asleep. Some prefer to read books to wind down at the end of the day, while others listen to music or take a warm bath to help them sleep.
- Follow a regular sleep schedule: Fix your sleeping and rising times and stick to them, even on weekends.
Other than preventing weight gain, good sleep habits also improve your mood, boost alertness and enhance the overall quality of life.4
Sleep, the most sedentary activity, maybe the only one that protects you from weight gain!1
- Beccuti G, Pannain S. Sleep and obesity. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011 Jul;14(4):402-412. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e3283479109.
- Harvard Medical School. About the Healthy Sleep Web Site [Internet]. [cited 2019 Nov 19]. Available from: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/about.
- National Health Portal. Sleep deprivation [Internet]. [updated 2016 Aug 04; cited 2019 Nov 19]. Available from: https://www.nhp.gov.in/Sleep-Deprivation_mtl.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Obesity Prevention Source: Sleep [Internet]. [cited 2019 Nov 19]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/sleep-and-obesity/.
- National Sleep Foundation. How much sleep do we really need? [Internet]. [cited 2019 Nov 19]. Available from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How does sleep affect your heart health [Internet]. [updated 2018 Dec 03; cited 2019 Nov 19]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/features/sleep-heart-health/index.html.
- National Institute on Ageing. A good night’s sleep [Internet]. [updated 2016 May 01; cited 2019 Nov 19]. Available from: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/good-nights-sleep.